Technology has made war seem like a video game to some Americans. We read of remote-controlled “drones” killing our enemies. We watch videotapes of “smart” bombs blowing up bunkers. Footage we see of combat involving rifle fire, rocket-propelled grenades and house-to-house fighting rarely shows anyone being hit.
We civilians prefer not to be reminded of the horror of war. But those who have served us in uniform and those now in harm’s way are all too familiar with the terrible reality of armed conflict.
It is not something they discuss freely with those who have not been their comrades in arms. The experience of war simply cannot be comprehended by those of us who have not endured it.
Gen. William T. Sherman, whose leadership was critical in the Union’s victory in the Civil War, has been given credit for the statement, “War is hell.” He elaborated on that in letters and speeches after the Civil War. In one missive, he had this to say:
‘’I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers ... ‘tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.’’
On Monday, we honored those whose sacrifices bore witness to the truth of Sherman’s comment. About 1 million Americans have laid down their lives for their country — for us. They died in the snow at Valley Forge and in the blazing hot sands of Iraq. They perished in the jungles of Pacific Islands and in the cities of Afghanistan. They fell in combat against men they considered brothers and in fights against a culture dedicated to destroying ours. Some made the ultimate sacrifice within walking distance of their homes. Others lie beneath the waves in oceans half a world away. Some never came home; they still are listing as missing in action or are buried overseas in ground consecrated forever as American soil.
Since the very beginning, we Americans have relied upon brave, patriotic men and women willing to go into the hell that is war, in our defense.
Too often, they did not come home alive.
We are deeply grateful to all who serve us in the military. Memorial Day, however, is set aside to recognize our honored dead, the men and women who paid the supreme price for us — those who fell in the line of duty. It also is a reminder to us, as Abraham Lincoln emphasized in his Gettysburg Address, that we owe an enormous debt to the families of our fallen warriors.
We Americans pause in solemn gratitude. We need not fully understand the horror of war to recognize that too many of our finest sons and daughters, neighbors, friends, classmates and co-workers did not survive it.
We as a nation owe them a debt beyond repaying.